Monday, October 31, 2011

Girl With the Flammable Pumpkin- Pumpkin Bread

"I think about that girl I read about in the paper- the one with the flammable skirt...She wore it to a party and was dancing, too close to the vanilla-smelling candles, and suddenly she lit up like a pine needle torch...But what I keep wondering is this: That first second when she felt her skirt burning, what did she think? Before she knew it was the candles, did she think she'd done it herself? With the amazing turns of her hips, and the warmth of the music inside her, did she believe, for even one glorious second, that her passion had arrived?" The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

I love this paragraph. I do. It's even more satisfying in the original context. I neglected to put some key sentences in the quote, because it is my personal opinion that this paragraph alone is so perfect that it could stand along as a piece of flash fiction and I don't feel right about copying an entire piece of work. Or the shorter version- go read this.

I carved the above pumpkin. And then I realized I had recreated this scene. The girl in the skirt. And her passion had arrived...

Anything worth doing takes passion. Something that makes you thrum with excitement as you realize that this was something you were meant to do. That this is something you want to do- that you can do- and the marriage of the two is so perfect that you can't help but be gleeful. It doesn't matter how long or hard the task is, you have the patience to see it through. To make things is my passion. I love to make things that weren't there before, to piece different things together to see them in a new light. I want to carve a pumpkin, to bake a batch of cookies, to write a perfect sentence. You don't have to love only one thing, but if you find a single thing to love, it will see you through anything. 

Even pumpkin carving...

There's something satisfying about gutting a pumpkin. The seeds are cold to the touch and covered in orange goop. They resist leaving the squash, hanging on by fibrous threads, until with a good yank they come free. And yet no matter how disgusting they feel on your skin, you still love scrapping the carcass clean of all seeds. Then comes to scalpel.

Insert Evil Grin Here.

The cut up carcass is then hoisted onto the porch and has a hot candle shoved inside of it. Very kid friendly, no? What are we teaching our children? How to be sadistic pumpkin murderers? Probably.

So tonight, let's burn some pumpkins! Who's with me! I'll get the torch...

...Or we could just make some pumpkin bread. Fine. Be like that.

Pumpkin Bread
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup blueberries
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan.

Beat together sugar, oil, pumpkin, and eggs. 

In a separate bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Fold into pumpkin mixture, just enough to combine. Do not over mix.

Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour batter into pan.

Bake for an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan and cool completely.

What do you love?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Iced Cupcakes and Fish- Amelia Bedelia

"And Amelia Bedelia iced her cakes. 'Those do look nice,' she said. 'And there's enough icing left over to ice the fish too.' Amelia Bedelia picked up a fish by its tail....She iced one side of the fish. Then she iced the other side."
"And suddenly everybody was laughing. Mrs. Rogers began to pour the tea. Amelia Bedelia served the chocolate cupcakes. And the ladies said they were the best cakes they had ever eaten."
Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower by Peppy Parish, Illustrated by Fritz Siebel and Barbara Siebel Thomas

Amelia Bedelia, if you are not aware, is a maid from a children's book series, who takes her employeers' instructions too literally. An example of which is when told to draw the drapes, she sketches a picture of them. My personal favorite is when she dresses the something resembling lederhosen. The only reason she never gets fired is that she's a great baker. Really.

I took this to heart as a kid. "What happened to the living room wall!" "I made it pretty with blue paint, Mommy!" Silence. "And I also made cupcakes!" "Oh, that's alright then." These books are fun for kids, have great drawings, and are An I Can Read Books or as I like to call them So You Think You Can Read? Well, do ya punk?

The chocolate covered fish always fascinated me as a kid. Even though I knew they were real fish that probably gave the one woman who ate them food poisoning, there's something undeniably attractive about that much chocolate. But everybody knows chocolate fish are sort of odd. You're more likely to see something like chocolate sea shells. I knew I would never come across it in real life.

Until I did.

It was on sale too! Can you imagine people not wanting chocolate in the shape of a fish?

But if you can not find a fish made out of solid chocolate, then this might be a fun alternative.

Oh, and let's make cupcakes too. Just 'cause.

Starlight Yellow Cake Cupcakes
(recipe by Betty Crocker)
makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup butter(butter-flavored Crisco works as well), softened

1 1/4 cups milk
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put liners in a muffin tin.

Beat all ingredients together in a large bowl on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour batter into a muffin tin, filling each about 3/4 of the way full.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes.

Frost with desired icing and add any toppings. I used sliced almonds, peanut butter candy and extra cake crumbs.

Chocolate Icing
(from Joy of Cooking)
makes 1 1/4 cups

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 hot coffee/cream/milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Melt together the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in the liquids. Then gradually add the powdered sugar to taste. 

I recommend you make a double batch.

Chocolate Fish
Gummy Fish
Chocolate or Warm Leftover Chocolate Icing

Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a bowl for 15 seconds at a time until chocolate melts. Drizzle the hot chocolate or warm frosting over one side of the fish. Chill, then flip over and frost the other side. Use as garnish on your cupcakes or as a fun treat.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Poppy Seed Cookies

"The Master lit the spirit lamp under the little chafing dish and heated some butter before cutting half a dozen poppy heads open and tossing them in. Poppy was always served after a feast: it clarified the mind and stimulated the tongue, and made for rich conversation. It was traditional for the Master to cook it himself." (pg. 17) The Golden Compass 
Lemon poppy seed cookies. Great with tea or just as a light snack- what are you waiting for?
These cookies have it all. Poppy seeds? Check. Butter? Most definitely. Opiates? Y-no. No.
Okay, so not everything. 
But they're still delicious and sure to open up a conversation between you and whoever you choose to share these with. 
If you don't like poppy seeds, you won't like these at all. 
They're seedy little cookies that you can pop in your mouth whole. At times they may seem more seed than cookie. You may have the urge to try and plant one. Don't. You can never get that cookie back.
Of course, if you're having panserbjørn over for tea, you might want to make some muffins too. Maybe a double batch. They'll want to eat quite a lot before they challenge you to mortal combat. It's only good manners.

Poppy Seed Cookies
3/4 cups sugar 
2 cups flour 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 tsp baking powder 
1/2 cup poppy seeds 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup oil 
2 Tbs lemon rind 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
Sift dry ingredients and add poppy seeds. Make well in flour mixture and add eggs, oil and rind. Mix together gently to form dough. 
Grease baking sheets. 
Roll the dough into tiny balls and place them onto the baking sheet. My baking sheets can hold about fifteen cookies- three per row, five rows in all.   
Make sure you have plenty of space between the dough circles. The cookies will expand in the oven. 
Get a cup with a flat bottom and fill the bottom of a small plate with sugar. You are going to be using the sugar as though it was flour on a rolling pin. It will keep the dough from sticking to the cup.
Cover the bottom of the cup in sugar by grinding it against the sugar pile. Then press one at a time the dough balls into tiny circles on the baking sheet. You will have to continually make sure the bottom of the cup is covered in sugar and use more sugar when necessary. 
Place the baking sheet in the oven.
Bake each batch for ten minutes. Cool on a rack.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Importance of Eating Muffins

JACK: How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins, when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

ALGERNON:  Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

JACK: I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.

ALGERNON: When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as anyone who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins.

Muffins are irresistible to everyone, except celiacs, masochists, and people of that sort. Why else would a celebrated wit such as Oscar Wilde choose the muffin over an abundance of British tea time treats? What about bread and butter, teacake, or those queer, porous crumpets? Clearly they are all inferior.

There comes a time each year when I crave pumpkin. (Some call it “fall.”) My seasonal instincts are telling me to eat those bulbous orange squashes that grace the entrances of every supermarket. I thought a lot about making pumpkin muffins. I knew I needed to make pumpkin muffins or I would think about them day and night until that thought circuit became a reality. 

This vegan pumpkin coconut muffin recipe is adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe clip from the New York Times site. (Watch the video and catch the Milan Kundera joke at the end.) Rather than the usual half all-purpose, half-whole wheat approach, Bittman uses whole wheat pastry flour and a cup of produce puree. I veganized this recipe by replacing the stick of butter with a half cup of coconut oil, which I also rubbed all over my skin. Try not to get it on your cuffs.

Some say the best way to prevent muffin-provoked violence is to make enough for everyone. This recipe makes 12-14 muffins and one small bowl of vegan pumpkin pudding.

Vegan Pumpkin Coconut Muffins

2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
½ teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin puree (Bake and puree peeled pumpkin or buy it canned like a square. Your choice.)
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup melted coconut oil
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat to 375 degrees.

Combine the pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir. In another bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, coconut milk, coconut oil, and shredded coconut. Gently blend the two mixtures together and keep in mind that over-mixing will result in unpleasantly tough muffins. Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil or fill the tin with muffin cups. Pour in the batter.

Place the tin in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.
As you wait, eat the remainder of the batter with a spatula. Rename the recipe “Vegan Pumpkin Pudding” and call it a night.

I try so hard not to look like one of those people who stuff their mouths incessantly, but it still seems like whenever anyone speaks to me I have a mouthful of corn chips. Call me Chipmunk Cheeks, but what can be done? Could I grow my own self-control with a green tablet in a tub of water and use the resulting spongy-thing to soak up my unbridled addictions? Probably not.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cream and Berries: Better than Fairy Food?

"'Christopher, she blurted out, 'do you ever think about food?' 
'Food?' The heartbreaking control of the voice flickered a little, as if in surprise, and the next question was a real one. 'What do you mean?' 
'J-j-just food,' Kate stammered. 'Things to eat. I mean, they don't feed the mortal women on boiled grain and milk, like you, but with us it's always meat in wine and spices, every single day, richer than Christmas, and I'm so tired of it. I keep thinking all the time what it would be like to have a loaf of bread, a new loaf out of the oven, with a crust on it, and clotted cream and strawberries...'"
(pg. 182-3) The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Ah, The Perilous Gard, a book in which our heroine is forced to live with the fairy folk in order to keep her from revealing secrets of those around her. And in doing so, discovers that maybe meat isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Maybe she should ask for some oatmeal instead...

But when she is reunited with a former companion, she in an attempt to distract themselves from their fates, describes the most fabulous of all things- the proper way to eat a scone. Yes, that's right. You've been horribly improper in your scone eating method. Feel ashamed.

Select a scone.

Take the normal steps to insure that it is free of enchantment. If you're out of rowan branches, try mint leaves and a hint of malt powder. That way, you'll have a milkshake if the spell goes awry. And who doesn't crave a milkshake while they stand in the ruins of their house in the dead of winter? 

Fairies. Because they live underground.

Split the scone in half, creating extra surface area.

Have a jar of your favorite type of jam. The higher quality the better.

Scoop out a generous amount of jam and apply directly to the inside of the two scone halves.

If you live in a place where clotted cream is readily available, now is the time to go get some. For everyone else or those who don't want to go to the store, simply add a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Freshly Whipped Cream (Accept No Substitutes)
1-2 tablespoons Sugar
1 cup of Heavy Whipping Cream

Pre-chill the mixing bowl.
Add both ingredients to a mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip at a high setting or alternatively using a handheld whisk until your wrist snaps off;(work in a pair if you can, trading off when you tire) or until stiff peaks form. This is when the cream will hold its shape when the whisk is lifted up slightly, creating a mountain top or a range, if you persist in testing more than once.

*Note of caution for those who are used to the canned-- fresh whipped cream will only last a few days in the fridge. It's best fresh, so don't make more than a few hours ahead if you can avoid it. Make sure to keep leftovers in an enclosed container or a bowl covered with plastic wrap. The cream will absorb any powerful odors, so don't leave it next to the garlic sauce unless you're pregnant.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Most Intense Vegetable

“The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

-        -   Tom Robbins, the opening of Jitterbug Perfume

Is it possible to love beets more than Tom Robbins? For a few weeks, the beet was my obsession. It began with a quinoa salad in a quaint Quebec café, continuing passionately into bowl upon bowl of borscht, both warm-and-creamy and raw-and-gushing.

Robbins calls the beet “passionate,” perhaps because it resembles an uprooted organ hairy with arteries. Cut mercilessly into the beet and it will dribble magenta unicorn blood upon your impeccable white tablecloths and imitation granite. The scene of the crime will not be pretty sight and you will most certainly be caught red-handed. The evidence will be the ink on your fingerprints.

I ate my beets raw, from the skin to the flesh. Some say that the skin of the beet contains potent cancer-destroying compounds, so skip the peeling process in this raw beet salad. You know what other vegetable I love? Kale. I needed to include that somehow. This recipe is for one, because I never sit down and eat four servings of salad by myself.

Intense Beet Salad

2 leaves of kale, rinsed and dried
Squirt of lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 handful of beet greens
1/4 cup grated beets, washed and unpeeled
1 handful of golden raisins
1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds

Viciously rip the kale into bit sized pieces and drop them in a bowl. Add lemon juice, sea salt, olive oil, and chili powder. Work the dressing into the kale with your bare hands so that it gets a bit wilted, otherwise it will probably slice your gums open. Mix in the beet greens and grated beets. Top with raisins and sunflower seeds.

The chili powder, raisins, and lemon give it a sweet-sour-spicy flavor that I find delicious. (Disclaimer: I'm also the sort of girl who would put Sriracha on ice cream just to get conflicting sensations. If you presented me with a standard garden salad of iceberg lettuce and chopped tomatoes, I would probably fall asleep with my face marinating in the ranch dressing. Perhaps I am an intense vegetable myself.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Agatha Christie: Poisoned Milk or Buttermilk Substitute?

"I thought you'd come, perhaps because you were a mother--one of those whose children I'd killed. I hoped you'd come back another time, and then we'd have a glass of milk together. It was usually milk. Sometimes cocoa. Anyone who knew about me....Turning suddenly, she came towards (her), holding a glass of milk and smiling persuasively. 'Drink it up, she said. 'Just drink it up." (pg. 247) Agatha Christie.

Agatha sure like her poisons, doesn't she? Her stories are also so clever, so intricate, so good at tapping into emotional parts of our heads and making red herrings seem probable the way nobody else can, that it becomes near impossible to guess who the murderer is. So to avoid spoiling anyone, I've neglected to state the book's title in the above quote. You can click on Agatha Christie's name above if you wish to know the title. I've also removed the name of the (probable)poisoner and the (possible)poison-ee. 

Of course, who are we to judge a nice old/young/middle-aged/unicorn/flying fish if she/he seemingly wants to poison Name Removed? It's none of our business, really.

Perhaps the whole thing was blown completely out of proportion. Perhaps Name Also Removed was just asking Name Removed if she was thirsty. 

Wow... Name Removed must feel really stupid right now. Especially when you look at plot point, plot point, red herring, plot point, tree. Isn't it all much clearer now?

I thought so.

Of course, if it turns out the milk really was poisoned, then Name Removed might want to consider washing it down with wedding cake. I hear it's quite delicious, even with the arsenic aftertaste.

Here's a quick and easy substitute for buttermilk used in baking. I promise nobody will ever find you out...except Miss Marple perhaps, if you let her in while you are cooking.

Never do that. She's surprisingly nosey.

While this recipe probably won't kill you even if you did- don't drink this plain. Seriously. It's for baking with, not consuming. That's why it's known as sour milk.

And who wouldn't try to off themselves after drinking sour milk? 

Hmm...maybe the milk wasn't really poisoned after all.

Buttermilk Substitute(Sour Milk)-


One tablespoon Vinegar
Cup o' Milk

Combine one tablespoon vinegar and one cup of milk. Let sit for five minutes. Swap for same amount of buttermilk as stated in recipe.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Advice from a Caterpillar

One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.”

“One side of what? The other side of what?” thought Alice to herself.

“Of the mushroom,” said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it out loud; and in another moment it was out of sight.

Alice remained looking thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and, as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question. However, at last she stretched her arms round it as far as they would go, and broke off a bit of the edge with each hand.

“And now which is which?” she said to herself, and nibbled a little of the right-hand bit to try the effect. The next moment she felt a violent blow underneath her chin: it had struck her foot!

As humans, we sometimes eat fungus when prompted by cheeky insect larvae. And we sometimes eat them just because it’s tasty. I imagine Alice must have felt like that lonesome, hungry cave man that picked the first (poisonous?) mushroom and thought, Should I consume this? Or perhaps she felt like Eve with the serpant coiled beside her ankle hissing, “Just eat it, it’ll be awesome!”

Outside of the US, where “don’t touch it, it’s deadly” is the wild mushroom mantra, foraging mushrooms is an international pastime for friends of the fungus.

For instance, last year in Italy, eighteen mushroom zealots were killed mushroom scouting in the uncharted Italian backwoods. In most cases, the deadly dapperling and false skullcap were not to blame. These foragers had no idea what they were doing. Rampant mushroom lust led one elderly woman to plunge to her death. A wounded man holding a bag of frozen carrots to his forehead famously admitted at the crime scene, “A caterpillar told us to do it.”

So don’t be afraid to love the mushroom. You’re probably not an idiot. Here’s a recipe, adapted from Barefoot Contessa's Sauteed Mushrooms.

Basically Harmless Sauteed Wild Mushrooms*

2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms (I used cremini, shiitaki, and oyster)

½ cup olive oil

1 cup chopped shallots (or 4 large shallots)

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup flat-leaf parsley

Clean the mushrooms somehow. Slice away the stems and keep the caps. You might chop them up if you have larger mushrooms. I, however, did not.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Sautee the shallots until they become translucent. Then add the olive oil, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until they look juicy. Add the garlic and stir. After about two minutes, mix the parsley and thyme into the mushrooms and serve.

*No Italians were harmed in the making of this side dish.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Eating and Reading

"It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of a novelist’s convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a cigar or drank a glass of wine.”

-          - Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I suppose Virginia Woolf never read novels while fasting for a Jewish holiday. One fateful Yom Kippur, my Jewish friend’s hungry eyes devoured The Particular Sadness of the Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. Her shrunken stomach gurgled as she read description after description of cakes and meals. Perhaps she stumbled upon the worst possible literature for her holy condition. Perhaps reading and eating need not be separate worlds after all.

Liza and I are college friends and writers. We like to collaborate but live far away from each other. Now that we have enormously useful college degrees in our possession and live in our respective states, we send each other recipes, discuss cooking oils, and revel in the glories of quinoa from a distance.

The last time Liza visited my house, we botched a batter for quinoa muffins with some disastrous homemade sunflower butter. Exhausted and downtrodden, we named our blog thus: Two Battered Women.

Think of Two Battered Women as the middle of a boring Venn diagram. The left circle is food, the right circle is literature, and Two Battered Women is that lemony shape in the creamy center, full of eating and reading, cooking and baking, and books about food.

Now, imagine that the two circles of the Venn diagram are actually sesame seed bagels filled with cream cheese. This should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hello World

Hello World. The Battered Women blog is currently under construction. Sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you for your interest, please come visit us again soon.